The couple's children are no better. Students at their new school don't greet Warren warmly, taunting and kicking him instead. But Warren, who aspires to enter the family "business" someday, knows he'll get the last word.

"Don't worry," a bruised, beaten Warren tells his sister, Belle, in reference to the lead bully. "He'll get his." So Warren befriends some of the school's outcasts, cuts deals with students who control the school's black markets, and orchestrates a vicious form of payback.

Belle has a softer side. She's falling in love with her math instructor, and she's not shy about letting him know of her interest. Nor is she shy about sharing her feelings for him with her mother, who responds by asking, "You have condoms?" Maggie then shares with Belle a frank remembrance of being deflowered by Giovanni in a church.

Sound amusing? As unfunny and tasteless as that sequence is, it's at least nonviolent. But the movie doesn't relegate the beautiful Belle to a stock romantic subplot. She, too, has "family" instincts, savagely attacking a group of boys who foolishly think they can take advantage of her.

The family's violence is all played for laughs—the smashing of faces with tennis racquets, the dipping of a man into corrosive liquid, golf clubs to the head, dismembered fingers… the list goes on. Likewise, the film's harsh language is supposed to be humorous, with the family taking after their patriarch in liberally using the f-word to react to difficult situations.

Worst of all may be the portrayal of Maggie's misguided faith. She prays that Jesus guide her family who "deep down" aren't "bad people," and she so offends a priest during confession that he orders her to leave town ("Your family is the incarnation of evil!" the priest shouts at Maggie. "Leave this place, for the love of God!"). Again, this is all played for laughs.

The Family is a dark comedy that's certainly dark, but not very funny. It's sadism masquerading as humor, and it wastes De Niro, Pfeiffer and two appealing young actors in a one-joke story that grows old fast. It's not funny. It's not shocking. It's just depressing. Leave the family—and yourself—at home.

CAUTIONS

  • Language/Profanity: Lord’s name taken in vain; multiple uses of the “f” word, often as a punchline; numerous uses of foul language
  • Drinking/Smoking: None
  • Sex/Nudity: Belle is attracted to a teacher; she tells her mom, who asks if she has condoms; mom says dad first had sex with her in a church; Belle says she’s saving herself for the love of her life; Belle loses her virginity to the teacher, and they’re shown having sex in a classroom (no nudity); a gangster threatens Maggie and unbuckles his pants; husband and wife kiss
  • Violence/Crime: A family is shot one by one; an axe comes down on the hand of a corpse; Warren is bullied and kicked by fellow students; Maggie causes an explosion and fire at a market; Warren says of a bullying student, “He’ll get his”; tennis racquet to the head; a dismembered finger; punching; a menacing gesture with a baseball bat; a body is seen being loaded into the back of a vehicle; choking; golf club to the face; bodies seen through an apartment door; quick shots of beatings and a man being dunked into corrosive liquid; Giovanni says, “All my sadistic urges are satisfied when I cause pain for a good reason”; a hammer brought down toward a victim; a man’s face is slammed onto a hot grill, and hot coals are placed in another man’s mouth; a politician is dragged across his desk; a bloodied man is tied to the back of a car; a girl is hit in the face with a cellphone; a woman prepares to jump to her death; guards are shot; a bloody arm sticks out from behind a desk, and blood is shown on the floor; people are shot; a knife to the chest
  • Religion/Morals/Marriage: A discussion about butter and olive oil concludes with a character asserting, “It’s in the Bible”; Maggie wears a cross around her neck and prays during the day at church; she prays to Jesus, saying of her family “deep down they’re not bad people. They just need you to guide them”; a priest encourages Maggie to confess her sins, but later says her family is the “incarnation of evil”

Questions? Comments? Contact the writer at crosswalkchristian@hotmail.com.

Publication date: September 13, 2013